Last night, the North Korean regime tested yet another missile which, according to the Japanese ministry of defense, reached an altitude of more than 1,200 miles (the International Space Station, for comparison, is only 250 miles up), and traveled 500 miles in 30 minutes before dropping 250 miles outside of Japan’s exclusive economic zone.
Despite the longer range of the missile, U.S. Pacific Command said it could not reach the U.S.
“The type of missile is being assessed and the flight was not consistent with an intercontinental ballistic missile,” said a statement from Pacific Command spokesperon Maj. Rob Shuford.
In its statement, meanwhile, the White House invoked Russia, pointing out that the missile dropped even closer to Russia than it did to Japan. The president “cannot imagine that Russia is pleased,” the statement read, before moving on to standard boiler-plate about North Korea being a “flagrant menace for far too long” and about the U.S. maintaining its “ironclad commitment” to the security of South Korea and Japan.
“Let this latest provocation serve as a call for all nations to implement far stronger sanctions against North Korea,” the statement concluded.
Many in the foreign policy and political commentariat reacted predictably, calling the reference to Russia “unusual,” as Toronto Star foreign correspondent Daniel Dale did. But Russia is one of the six countries in the six-party talks (along with North Korea, South Korea, the U.S., China, and Japan) that China is trying to restart, and has a significant portion of its territory within the range of putative North Korean missiles.
For more than a decade, the U.S. has assumed primary security responsibility for North Korea—taking the lead on diplomacy, on saber-rattling, and on developing missile defenses. But North Korea poses a more significant threat to countries far closer to it, and not just U.S. allies either.
Since the beginning of his term, Trump has appeared to be trying to draw China into a more active role in containing North Korea. Drawing Russia in too is also a good idea. Eventual disengagement by the U.S. in favor of China, Russia, Japan, and South Korea assuming more responsibility would be even better.
No doubt the mention of Russia in the North Korea statement piqued the interest of those peddling or buying into Trump-Russia conspiracies. Trump has done his part in fanning these flames too—allowing talk of a Trump-Russia investigation to influence his thinking process far more than it should. Referring to such an investigation in explanation of terminating the widely unpopular FBI Director James Comey was a spectacular own-goal.
Yet Trump’s thin skin aside, there’s little evidence of “collusion” between Trump and Russia or that the former is somehow in the latter’s pocket. Under the Trump administration, the U.S. has bombed the Russian-allied government in Syria, demanded Russia return Crimea to Ukraine before sanctions are lifted, and rejected Exxon-Mobil’s request to continue business in Russia. If Putin paid for Trump (and there’s no real evidence to suggest that), he should get his money back.
In the meantime, Democrats who have become Russia hawks should look back to 2012, heed the advice of President Obama, and stop treating Russia like it’s still a Cold War boogeyman.
One of Trump’s most consistent messages in an often confusing and contradictory campaign was that the U.S. could no longer afford to be the world’s policeman. On NATO, Trump buckled quickly, sending Defense Secretary James Mattis to urge Europe to spend more on its own defense but then allowing European leaders to call his bluff and eventually embracing NATO as no longer “obsolete.” On Syria, Trump volunteered U.S. military power to act as the enforcement mechanism for the convention on chemical weapons, without any international body even asking him to do so, let alone with him demanding payment for it.
On North Korea, there is still the opportunity for a non-interventionist solution. The Trump administration can still succeed in pulling other countries together to cooperate on regional security while reducing its own security commitments. Knee-jerk reactions about working with or calling on Russia, which is far more threatened by North Korea’s missile program than the U.S., discourage efforts at cooperative, non-interventionist solutions.